Karma chameleon: David Lynch on death and rebirth, interview part 3

28 Jan
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Natasha Gregson Wagner with Balthazar Getty in Lynch’s Lost Highway

Click the links for part one and part two of the interview. My review of David Lynch’s current exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery is here. Lynch and I are playing a game of “hot or cold” to get to the truth about Lost Highway…

Back to split personalities. All your films deal with the duality of good and evil, often fought out internally. The Mystery Man in Lost Highway seems, like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, a straightforward embodiment of evil, the dark side. (Lynch cocks his head like a bird to indicate “cold”.) Um. Or is he a Creature From The Id, summoned up from Bill Pullman’s subconscious? (Lynch nods.) Is that warm? “Yeah.”

One bit I really like in Lost Highway is where Getty transforms back into Pullman, when they’re making love in front of the car headlights in a bright white light, like at the end of Fire Walk With Me where the angel descends. So is this a kind of angelic visitation? (He’s nodding, saying uh-huh, but as if he’s expecting more.) So I don’t know where that goes exactly… (Lynch laughs, and doesn’t help out.)

Okay. You’ve said before you believe in reincarnation. Is it anything to do with Karma, the wheel of life, with rebirth? “It could be.” Then: “You know there’s, ah, all sorts of symbols of beautiful transformations, like the cocoon into the butterfly. So it makes you wonder, you know, what is this transformation we’re going through?”

So there is life after death? “Aaah, I think so. I think it’s a continuum.” So what’s it like? (He laughs.) Not a room with red curtains and people talking backwards, then? “That would be kinda beautiful to me.”

So the blackest, most depressing thing about Lost Highway is that Bill Pullman can never die. He’s trapped in this time loop, doomed to repeat his murders and mistakes for ever and ever. “Well, maybe not forever and ever, but you can see how it would be a struggle. Yeah, that’s it.” (Lynch looks uneasy. He’s given away too much!)

So it is that Buddhist notion of reincarnation, that you can only get off the wheel to Nirvana after thousands of years? “Exactly.” So there is light? Pullman could be released if the film carried on? “Oh yeah. Sure. It’s a fragment of the story. It’s not so much a circle as like a spiral that comes around, the next loop a little bit higher than the one that precedes it.”

So there you have it. I think I’ve come as close here as any human can to the central idea behind the film.

I have one more game to play with Lynch; but first, I need to ask him about the accusations of misogyny and pornography that have dogged him ever since Blue Velvet. I have up my sleeve a book of film noir reviews by Barry Gifford, author of Wild At Heart and co-scripter of Lost Highway. Written in 1988, before he started working with Lynch, it describes Blue Velvet as “One cut above a snuff movie. A kind of academic porn. I can never imagine things as depraved as those that occur here, and I’ve always thought I could get pretty low in that department. Pornography, as such, simply bores me. So this movie isn’t for me, yet it seems somehow important and worth discussing.” With friends like that, who needs enemies?

“He says it’s not for him?” Lynch responds when I read this to him. “I’ll never work with him again.” He’s joking, of course…

Lost Highway certainly reopens the debate. It features Patricia Arquette being screwed from behind and made to strip at gunpoint, only to discover that she enjoys it. Lynch counters that that’s just the way the character happens to be. Certainly, his male characters are even more passive, and no less sexually screwed up. It’s more perhaps that Lynch’s own sexuality was imprinted in the ’50s, with his fetishistic fondness for sweater girls in high-heeled shoes with lipstick like a gash of blood. It does seem suspicious that a man who went out with Ingrid Bergman’s daughter (Isabella Rossellini) for several years also cast Natalie Wood’s daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, in Lost Highway – wearing a tight ’50s sweater with nothing underneath it, as you can see when she takes it off in a car.

So, Dave, ‘fess up: was it because you used to fancy her mum?

“I fancied Natalie Wood, sure, but that’s not why Natasha was hired. I met her and suddenly realised I’d met her 18 years before. I didn’t actually see her then, but her mother was eight months pregnant. It was when I first went to the American Film Institute, and they had a big party one evening, and Natalie Wood came out on the verandah.”

So it’s back to your cycle of life and birth?

“Exactly right.”

Another score. Lynch has certainly warmed up over the course of our interview. It’s time to put him on the psychiatrist’s chair, and play a game of word association…

Come back tomorrow for part four

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